Australian Coal Burned Abroad Creates Nearly Double The Nation’s Domestic Emissions | Greenhouse gas emissions
Emissions from coal mined in Australia but exported and burned overseas were almost double the country’s national greenhouse gas footprint in 2020, according to new data.
Australia and Indonesia were the largest exporters of coal for steelmaking and combustion in power plants, together accounting for 59% of the global marine coal market.
When countries report their national emissions to the United Nations, only fossil fuels burned in the country are counted. But the impacts of CO2 on the climate are the same whether burned in Australia or abroad.
Earlier this week, the latest government emissions data showed greenhouse gas emissions had fallen to a 30-year low of 499 Mt CO2e, mainly thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing amounts of renewable energy replacing coal.
But the new data, compiled by UK-based pro-renewable think tank Ember, shows emissions from Australian coal burned overseas released 895 Mt of CO2 into the atmosphere, of which 460 Mt came from coal. used in power plants.
Australia is under increasing international and domestic pressure to announce more ambitious climate goals ahead of the next big climate talks in Glasgow in November.
At the same time, state governments continue to free up and promote more fossil fuel extraction despite a report from the International Energy Agency warning that new projects must stop if the world is to have a chance. to keep global warming at 1.5 ° C
Ember analyst Nicolas Fulghum said that while profits from coal exports flowed to exporting countries, “the environmental impact is being shipped overseas.”
Eight of the 10 largest coal ports by volume were in Australia and Indonesia.
Newcastle remains the world’s largest coal export port, with 155 Mt – or 12% of all global maritime coal – coming from the New South Wales hub. Hay Point in Queensland is the second largest coal port, exporting 100 Mt of coal in 2020.
The top three Australian customers for thermal coal in 2020 were Japan (67Mt), China (29Mt) and Korea (28Mt), according to the data.
All three countries have pledged to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions – Japan and Korea by 2050 and China by 2060.
Bill Hare, chief executive and senior scientist at Climate Analytics and a veteran of international climate negotiations, told the Guardian the new data was in line with his own consulting firm’s research on export emissions.
He said the data showed Australia was “highly exposed” to the impacts of planned CO2 reductions in countries currently purchasing coal.
“It’s an economic risk and a strong signal.
He said that as more and more people around the world began to understand the impact of Australia’s exports on the global climate, it risked further damaging the country’s already poor reputation for climate action.
“This will translate into fundamental questions about the Australian economy. If we are so exposed to carbon and global markets, it will fuel a broader view of the Australian economy as being supported by a dependence on fossil fuels. “
He said historically Australia’s fossil fuel export industry has been largely ignored in international negotiations as many countries have profited from fossil fuels.
But he had noticed a change during the last talks in Madrid in 2019, when some national delegates began to “point fingers” at their frustration with major fossil fuel exporters, including Australia.
“These kinds of numbers will not help Australia’s position at all” in the upcoming negotiations in Glasgow, Hare said.
Australia has pledged to release a long-term greenhouse gas emissions strategy ahead of these talks.
Morrison said at an April climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden that future generations “will thank us not for what we have promised but for what we deliver.”
Morrison said Australia wanted to reach net zero “as soon as possible,” but resisted pressure to promise a mid-century goal.
The government said it was focusing on a technology-driven response to reduce emissions, but also pushed for a “gas-driven recovery” from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Australia’s coal and gas industry has complained in an ongoing parliamentary inquiry that it is more difficult for them to get financial support and insurance for projects.